How PDP dug its own grave in Kashmir

The party that was built up over almost two decades of hard work risks oblivion. Tying up with the BJP for power may well see the party becoming irrelevant

IANS Photo
IANS Photo

Haroon Reshi

It is for the first time, since it was founded about two decades back, that the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in J&K seems to be confronting with an existential threat. The reasons are deep cracks within the party and a huge decline in its popularity.

Seven of the sitting party legislators have come out in the open, revolting against leadership for “promoting dynastic politics” in the party.

It is believed that other disgruntled members in the party, who are silent, are actually waiting for the right moment.

“We are not seven. There are many more with us and all set to join us openly in coming days. We have decided to end this Khandani Raj in the party,” Ansari, also a prominent Shia cleric, said.

Ansari (46) is on fire against Mehbooba Mufti for placing her kith and kin in top positions within the party and in the last government, the tenure of which ended on June 19, after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) pulled the rug from under its feet, all of a sudden, even without bothering to inform then Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti. Mehbooba, who was re-elected unopposed as the president of party for the sixth term in a row, in December 2017, had refused a ‘suitable’ portfolio to Ansari in her cabinet, telling him that he was ‘inexperienced’.

“She (Mehbooba) brought her younger brother Tasaduq Mufti, a Bollywood cinematographer from Mumbai, to make him a Cabinet Minister. But at the same time, she refused to give suitable positions to those who have given their youth and everything to the party,” said Ansari, who tauntingly calls the PDP ‘Parivaar Democratic Party’. Many others are citing almost similar reasons for their revolt against the party leadership.

“We had elected Mehboobaji as our party president and the leader of the legislature party but she created a group of loyalists to run the party and the government. Everything within the party is in the hands of this group. They never bother to listen to our grievances,” said Abbas Wani, another rebel MLA.

It is not only a matter of internal crisis for the party. The PDP has lost its popularity among the masses drastically over the past three years.

One could gauge the unpopularity of the party and public anger against it, even after it lost the power last month. Soon after the BJP withdrew support on June 19, people in many areas of South Kashmir took to the streets to celebrate the fall of the government.

South Kashmir, which used to be a PDP bastion since its formation in July 1999, has seen worst kind of human rights violations during the three-year-long tenure of the PDP-led coalition government. Hundreds of civilians were killed, thousands injured and blinded, thousands booked under criminal laws and thousands arrested.

The Agenda of Alliance (AoA), which was signed by the coalition partners at the time of government formation in March 2015, was not executed at all during these three years. People now believe that both parties had been hand-in-glove with each other to trick them by showing a document called AoA at the time of government formation. Moreover, during all this time, the PDP always seemed to surrender before its partner

The most violent phase started after the killing of militant Burhan Wani in July 2016. The extensive use of force to crush the five-month-long uprising proved fatal for the credibility of the PDP.

The recently released UN report on human rights in Kashmir said, “In responding to demonstrations that started in 2016, Indian security forces used excessive force that led to unlawful killings and a very high number of injuries.”

The worst thing that could have happened to Mehbooba Mufti’s political career in Kashmir was her justification for the killings and rights violations.

Most people in Kashmir still remember Mehbooba Mufti’s taunt about young victims when she was addressing a joint press conference with Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh in Srinagar, on August 25 in 2016, at a time when unrest in Kashmir was at its peak and several civilians including many children had been killed and hundreds injured and blinded by the use of pellet guns.

While defending police and paramilitary forces, she said, those who were hit by bullets or pellets had not gone to fetch milk or toffees. This comment by a CM in the times of pain and misery is well remembered by one and all in the Valley.

Hours after the BJP withdrew support from the PDP-led government, Gowher Geelani, a well-known journalist and a political analyst, wrote on twitter, “… Toffee lene gaye thay? Doodh lane gaye thay? … Divine justice: When you humiliate your own people for power & greed, God humiliates you!”

According to official figures, at least 105 civilians, mostly from four districts of south Kashmir, were killed and over 15,000 civilians were injured in 2016 alone. Among the injured, hundreds were blinded, partially or totally, by pellets.

Pertinently, South Kashmir used to be the bastion of the PDP and the Mufti’s from day one. Mehbooba had won the first election of her career in 1996, from Bejbihara Assembly seat in South Kashmir. She has twice represented Anantnag parliamentary constituency. Most recently, she won by-election from the Anantnag Assembly seat, with the highest margin in June 2016, before the unrest and killings began. In 2014, the PDP bagged 28 seats and the party won 11 from South Kashmir alone.

“The worst thing about the PDP-led government was that most human rights violations took place in South Kashmir, a party stronghold. Most people, who were killed, injured, booked, arrested, tortured and humiliated during PDP rule, belonged to this area. I don’t think people will forget this and forgive the party,” Tariq Ali Mir, a journalist from South Kashmir’s Duru area, said.

In private conversations, most party workers and leaders confess that the ruthless attitude of the government has ruined the party’s image in the eyes of the masses. “I feel ashamed to face the people of my constituency. How can I go in front of these people and ask them to vote for us? We had promised people that we will keep the BJP away from power and when people voted for us, we joined hands with the BJP. We had told people that human rights violations will end but the fact is that our government broke all past records,” a PDP legislator told National Herald.

Tasaduq Mufti, Mehbooba Mufti’s brother, was bluntly honest when he acknowledged that the PDP had committed a crime by entering into a coalition with the saffron party. In April, he said that the PDP and the BJP have “ended up being partners in a crime, an entire generation of Kashmiris might have to pay with their blood for”.

On the first day of the coalition government, on March 1, 2015, former CM Mufti Muhammad Sayeed had promised that security forces would be made accountable for their actions. “We want to make the alliance a turning point in history to win the hearts and minds of the people of the state. Army will be made accountable for its actions,” he had said. Three and a half year down the line, PDP stands exposed.

Interestingly, it had taken Mufti less than three years to make the PDP a widely acceptable alternative in Kashmir’s political mainstream, after he founded the party in 1999. And now it seems that the party took the same period of time to lose its credibility and image. After founding the party with the help of a few aides like Mehbooba Mufti, Muzaffar Hussain Baigh and Tariq Hameed Karra, Mufti had touched people’s hearts by promising a “healing touch to their wounds”.

At that time, he had assured Kashmiris that if he came to power, he would end the excesses of the forces. He promised disbanding the notorious Special Operation Group (SOG), commonly known as task force. He had promised a peace and dialogue process for the final solution to the Kashmir problem. In those days, Mufti’s enthusiasm was such that in a public meeting in central Kashmir’s Ganderbal, he once said that “Now militants do not need to hide in jungles. They should come out instead, as their representatives (PDP) are now going to the Assembly to pursue their case.”

Such an emotional sloganeering won the PDP overnight popularity. Thus, just three years later, in 2002, the party was ruling the state with the help of the Congress which Mufti had left to form the PDP. In the Assembly election of 2002, the party won 16 seats, mostly from the Valley. It was not less than a miracle for a newly formed political party to gain such acceptance in such a short span of time.

Political analysts say that tying up with the hyper-nationalist BJP in 2015 to form an alliance after a fractured mandate in 2014 Assembly elections was a grave mistake committed by the PDP. The fact is that during the poll campaign, the PDP had sought votes to keep the BJP out of power in the state. The video clips showing Mehbooba telling people that if they wanted to stop the “aggression of the BJP, then they must vote for the PDP” in the elections, are still doing rounds in the social media.

“The PDP had scared the voters that if they did not vote for the party, the BJP with be ruling the state with its anti-Muslim agenda. But then the party shook hands with the BJP. This was a betrayal of the mandate,” Professor Noor Ahmad Baba, former head of Kashmir University’s Political Science department, told National Herald.

The Agenda of Alliance (AoA), which was signed by the coalition partners at the time of government formation in March 2015, was not executed at all during these three years. People now believe that both parties had been hand-in-glove with each other to trick them by showing a document called AoA at the time of government formation. Moreover, during all this time, the PDP always seemed to surrender before its partner.

In the AoA, the BJP had agreed to stop talking about the abrogation of Article 370 of Indian Constitution, which gives special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. But the fact is that the demand of repealing article 370 was raised every now and then by BJP leaders in Delhi and Srinagar during these three years.

In AoA, both the parties had agreed to pursue for the talks with Pakistan and Hurriyat leaders to resolve the Kashmir issue, but nothing was done to fulfil the promise. The BJP even refused to pursue on the promise of revocation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in the state. The partners of the government had also agreed to explore modalities for transfer of 390-MW Dulhasti and 4890-MW Uri-I hydropower projects from the NHPC to the state. But a few months after the government was formed, the BJP categorically refused to return the power projects, saying such a move will trigger similar demands from other states.

Despite this, the PDP did not show even the slightest resentment which further annoyed the people in the Valley. It is now a common perception that the PDP tolerated the authoritatian attitude of the BJP just to remain in power.

Interestingly, Nayeem Akhtar, one of the Mehbooba Mufti’s aides used to say that the AoA was “a sacred document.” However, Muzaffar Hussain Baigh, a top party leader, had described the document as “just a piece of paper.” In the end, Baigh was proven right.

Since the day the PDP joined hands with the BJP, the former has behaved like a submissive partner, without showing even the slightest sign of self-respect.

On the very first day of the PDP-BJP government, on March 1, 2015, then Chief Minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed was hauled over the coals by the BJP for expressing his gratitude towards “Pakistan, Hurriyat and the militants” for providing a “conducive atmosphere for smooth elections”.

Two days later, on March 3, it was scolded by the BJP for demanding the mortal remains of Afzal Guru. The PDP never dared to raise the demand again.

A few days later, Mufti Sayeed ordered K Rajendra Kumar, the then Police chief, to release separatist leader Masrat Aalam, who was in jail for his role in the 2010 agitation. The court had already issued a release order in favour of Aalam. He was released on March 8, 2015. Again, the BJP objected and forced Mufti to re-arrest him a few days later, under J&K’s controversial Public Safety Act.

On March 14, the CM put out a circular calling upon all constitutional authorities to maintain the sanctity of the State Flag, as is being done in respect of the Union Flag. Pertinently, unlike other states, Jammu and Kashmir has a separate flag. As per the J&K Constitution, sanctity of the State Flag is to be maintained. The State Flag is supposed to be hoisted jointly on the buildings housing constitutional institutions and on the official cars of constitutional authorities. But instead of obeying the Chief Minister’s orders, the BJP forced him to withdraw the circular with 24 four hours after it was issued.

Pertinently, the BJP’s precursor Jan Sangh’s founder Shyama Prasad Mukherjee had fought for abolition of the State Flag and the State Constitution. On the other hand, the PDP claims to have “self-rule framework” as its agenda for the solution of the Kashmir problem.

The worst kind of humiliation to the PDP and its leadership came at the hands of Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself, in a public gathering in Srinagar, on November 7, 2015. In his speech, Sayeed had suggested Prime Minister to initiate dialogue process with Pakistan and Hurriyat. Modi, in his speech said, “I don’t need advice or analysis from anyone in this world on Kashmir.” This was as insulting as it can get.

“Mufti died politically then and there. I was on dais. I could see Mufti Sahib’s face getting darkened, even before Modi completed his sentence. This took a toll on his health. A few days later, he fell sick and then he died,” recalls Tariq Hameed Karra, one of the founding members of the PDP.

When Mufti fell ill and was taken to AIIMS in Delhi, on December 24, 2015, where he was admitted for 14 days before he died on January 7, 2016, the Prime Minister did not go to see him once. A couple of weeks later, Modi went to see Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal who was admitted to a hospital in Chandigarh. This was noticed by the PDP leaders. Yet, they did not show any resentment. This kind of shameful tolerance helped the PDP to remain in power till the BJP wanted it to be. But the PDP’s astonishing silence on the constant humiliations by the BJP shocked the masses in Kashmir. The image of the party, which was built brick by brick in about twenty years, got smashed.

Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s death had given the PDP a rare chance to part ways with the BJP. After her father’s death, Mehbooba Mufti was reluctant to take charge of the government for a couple of months. Then, all of sudden, she met Prime Minister Modi, on March 22, 2016, which changed her mind. Thirteen days later, on April 4, 2016, Mehbooba Mufti took oath as the first ever woman chief minister of the state. The rest is history and the PDP may well be on its way to be a part of the history of Jammu and Kashmir.

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Published: 29 Jul 2018, 8:15 AM